Category Archives: D. A. Carson

July 22 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Judges 5; Acts 9; Jeremiah 18; Mark 4

 

the imagery of the potter and the clay (Jer. 18) recurs in Scripture (e.g., Rom. 9:19ff.). Slightly different emphases are brought forward in the different passages, though all of them emphasize God’s sovereign sway over the people who are likened to the clay. The emphases here may be clarified by the following observations:

(1) The potter’s wheel was a common sight in the ancient Near East, not so much a hobby item as an essential element in the manufacture of vessels both useful and aesthetically pleasing. The word wheel is in the dual form in Hebrew: two circular stones were fitted onto a vertical axis; the lower one was spun by the potter’s foot while the upper one served as the platform for the work.

(2) Often in the shaping of a pot some defect or other would become obvious—a defect in size or shape or in the texture of the clay or in some pollutant. The potter might then squash the developing pot into an amorphous blob of clay and begin all over again. It rather misses the point to ask if the potter is responsible for the defect. In the real world of pottery-making, of course, the potter might well be responsible or might be proceeding by trial and error. Certainly no one is suggesting that the clay itself, in the real world of pottery-making, bears some sort of moral responsibility for the way it turns out. But the point of the extended metaphor is not to assign blame for the defect: that is another subject. To try to read any such lesson here is to make the imagery walk on all fours. Moreover, in the context of the chapter at large—i.e., outside the world of the extended metaphor—God clearly holds the people of Israel responsible for the behavior that is calling forth his judgment (e.g., 18:13–15).

(3) What, then, is the point of this imagery? Perhaps there are two points. First, God has the right to destroy this pot and begin again. Whatever the cause of the defects, he has every bit as much right as the potter has to squash the pot and begin again. In other words, the people are not nearly as autonomous and self-determining as they think they are. That means their present course of conduct and disobedience is a recipe for unmitigated disaster. Second, just as a competent potter may well begin again because he or she is dissatisfied with the way a pot is developing, so God begins again because he is dissatisfied with the way his covenant people are developing. Are God’s standards lower than those of the village potter?

God has the right, and he has the standards. What sense does it make to buck him?[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

July 22 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Judges 5; Acts 9; Jeremiah 18; Mark 4

 

what was Paul’s perspective before he was converted (Acts 9)? Elsewhere (Acts 22:2; 23:6; Phil. 3:4–6) he tells us that he was a strict Pharisee, brought up (apparently) in Jerusalem, taught by one of the most renowned rabbis of the day. For him, the notion of a crucified Messiah was a contradiction in terms. Messiahs rule, they triumph, they win. The Law insists that those who hang on a tree are cursed by God. Surely, therefore, the insistence that Jesus is the Messiah is not only stupid, but verges on the blasphemous. It might lead to political insurrection: the fledgling church was growing, and might become a dangerous block. It had to be stopped; indeed, what was needed was a man of courage like Saul, a man like Phinehas who averted the wrath of God by his decisive action against the perverters of truth and probity (Num. 25; see meditation for May 16), someone who really understood the implications of these wretched delusions and who saw where they would lead.

But now on the Damascus Road Saul meets the resurrected, glorified Jesus. Whether he had seen him before we cannot be sure; that he sees him now, Saul cannot doubt. And a great deal of his theology, worked out and displayed in his letters, stems from that brute fact.

If Jesus were alive and glorified, then somehow his death on the cross did not prove he was damned. Far from it: the claim of believers that God had raised him from the dead, and that they had seen him, must be true—and that could only mean that God had vindicated Jesus. Then what on earth did his death mean?

From that vantage point, everything looked different. If Jesus was under the curse of God when he died, yet was vindicated by God himself, he must have died for others. Somehow his death absorbed the righteous curse of God that was due others and canceled it out. In that light, the entire history of the Hebrew Scriptures looked different. Was it not written that a Suffering Servant (see yesterday’s meditation) would be wounded for our transgressions and chastised for our iniquities? Does the death of countless lambs and bulls really take away human sin? Or do we need, as it were, a human “lamb of God,” a human “Passover Lamb”? If the tabernacle and temple rituals are read as pointing to the final solution, what does that say about the present status of the covenant enacted at Sinai? What about scriptural texts that promise a new covenant, a great outpouring of the Spirit in the last days (Acts 2:17–21; see Joel 2:28–32 and the meditation for July 15)? What place does the promise to Abraham have in the scheme of things, that in Abraham’s offspring all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:3; see meditation for January 11)?

Grant that Jesus is alive and vindicated, and everything changes.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

July 21 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Judges 4; Acts 8; Jeremiah 17; Mark 3

 

among the choruses i learned as a boy in Sunday school were these two:

These are the names of Jacob’s sons:

Gad, and Asher, and Simeon,

Reuben, Issachar, Levi,

Judah, Dan, and Naphtali—

Twelve in all, but never a twin—

Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin.

There were twelve disciples Jesus called to help him:

Simon Peter, Andrew, James, his brother John,

Philip, Thomas, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus,

Thaddaeus, Simon, Judas, and Bartholomew.

He has called us, too; he has called us, too!

We are his disciples, I am one, and you.

He has called us, too; he has called us, too!

We are his disciples; we his work must do.

I am grateful that I was brought up at a time when many of the songs we learned gave us some facts, some data, some reasons for things. Many Christians today could not name either the twelve patriarchs or the twelve apostles, and are dismally ignorant of a lot of other elementary data that the least informed Sunday school student a generation ago mastered by the age of six or ten. Of course, the acquisition of mere data does not necessarily make a Christian. On the other hand, ignorance of Scripture almost always ensures a painful immaturity.

Nevertheless, the chorus of the second piece quoted above is slightly misleading. True, we are called to be disciples of Jesus, i.e., followers of Jesus. That is the calling of all Christians. Nevertheless, there were unique elements to the calling of the twelve apostles (Mark 3:13–19). Here I mention only one: these were appointed “that they might be with him” (3:14). This was important for at least two reasons: (a) They were trained by him, and a major component of their training was what we today would call “mentoring”—not merely the impartation of a message and a commission, but shaping people by example as well as precept as to how they should live. (b) These twelve were able to bear witness to the facts concerning Christ from the first days of his public ministry. Peter understood the importance of this point (Acts 1:21–22), for the revelation of Jesus Christ was not some private mystical experience but a unique, historical event that demanded witnesses.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

July 21 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Judges 4; Acts 8; Jeremiah 17; Mark 3

 

the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26–40) marks an important extension of the Gospel across several barriers.

We need to understand who he was. He was “an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians” (8:27). Candace was a family name that had become a title, quite like Caesar in Rome. In certain matriarchal governments, it was not uncommon for the highest officials, who would have had ready access to Candace, to be eunuchs (whether they were born that way or castrated), for the obvious protection of the queen. This man was equivalent to U.S. Secretary of the Treasury or the like. But although he was an honored and powerful political figure at home, he would have faced limitations in Jerusalem. Since he had gone up to Jerusalem to worship (8:27), we must assume that he had come across Judaism, had been attracted to it, and had gone up to Jerusalem for one of the feasts. But he could not have become a proper proselyte, since from the Jewish perspective he was mutilated. The Word of God had seized this man, and he had traveled for several weeks to see Jerusalem and its temple

In the sheer providence of God, the passage the eunuch was reading, apparently out loud (8:30—a not uncommon practice in those days) was Isaiah 53. He asks the obvious question (8:34): Who is the Suffering Servant of whom Isaiah speaks? “Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus” (8:35).

That is a wonderful verse. Not only would it be difficult for him to find a better place to begin, Philip expounded both that passage and other Old Testament texts: he “began with that very passage of Scripture.” So the miles passed, and Philip explained text after text, painting a comprehensive picture of the Gospel, the good news about Jesus (8:35).

Thus the Gospel reaches outward in the book of Acts. All the first converts were Jews, whether reared in the Promised Land or gathered from the dispersion. But the beginning of Acts 8 witnesses the conversion of Samaritans—a curious people of mixed race, only partly Jewish, joined to the mother church in Jerusalem by the hands of the apostles Peter and John. The next conversion is that of the eunuch—an African, not at all Jewish—sufficiently devoted to Judaism to take the pilgrimage to Jerusalem even though he could never be a full-fledged proselyte; a man steeped in the Jewish Scriptures even when he could not understand them.

Small wonder that the next major event in this book is the conversion of the man who would become the apostle to the Gentiles.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

July 20 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Judges 3; Acts 7; Jeremiah 16; Mark 2

 

three observations on Jeremiah 16:

(1) The opening section of this chapter probably occurs quite early in Jeremiah’s ministry. He is forbidden to marry, not merely because women and children will within a few decades face an extraordinarily difficult time under siege warfare and subsequent exile, but as a symbolic way of anticipating the enforced asceticism that judgment will bring. In a culture in which almost all males married, his celibacy was doubtless a powerful symbol.

(2) One of the most striking features of this chapter is that the people really do not seem to be aware of their guilt. They cannot see why they should face judgment. “Why has the Lord decreed such a great disaster against us?” they ask. “What wrong have we done? What sin have we committed against the Lord our God?” (16:10). One of the most terrible indices of how far a people have strayed from righteousness is the degree to which they can no longer perceive their own guilt. Men and women who truly love righteousness and integrity are invariably aware when they breach it. The most holy people are the first to confess their sin with shame and contrition. The most guilty people are blissfully unaware of their corruptions and idolatries. So we must ask ourselves: where on this sort of spectrum are our churches found? Or our culture? Are we characterized by profound contrition, or by a frank inability to think that we have really done anything all that wrong? What does that say of us? What does that say about the Lord’s stance toward us?

(3) Although the Lord promises judgment, there are two hopeful elements. The first is that God will one day bring the people out of exile with so dramatic and unexpected a rescue that it will eclipse the glory of the Exodus (16:14–15). The second is that part of the purpose of this judgment is pedagogical. The people have cherished false gods. “Therefore I will teach them—this time I will teach them my power and might. Then they will know that my name is the Lord” (16:21). The exile was to reduce if not eliminate the chronic idolatry of the covenant people. At least at the level of formal idolatry it turned out to be remarkably effective in this respect. The history of the Jews after the return from exile is far different in this respect than what it was before. Despite horrible lapses, postexilic Jewish history displays far less polytheism and syncretism than preexilic history. Of course, for Jew and Gentile alike, the snare of idolatry is much more subtle and corrosive than the attractions of formal polytheism.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

July 20 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Judges 3; Acts 7; Jeremiah 16; Mark 2

 

the old testament historical psalms offer plenty of examples in which writers review the shared history of the Israelites for some special theological or ethical purpose. Something similar occurs when 1 and 2 Chronicles retell 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings, so as to focus on the southern kingdom and on certain theological perspectives. This form of address continues in certain New Testament sermons. Paul in Pisidian Antioch begins the historical recital with the Exodus, and aligns his storytelling priorities to show that Jesus really is the promised Messiah (Acts 13:16ff; see also the meditation for July 26). Here in Acts 7, Stephen, the first Christian martyr, begins with Abraham.

What are the advantages of this approach? And what does Stephen, in particular, set out to prove?

One of the advantages is that historical recital gains the attention of the audience—and in this case the audience was overtly hostile and needed calming. Their personal identity was bound up with their national history; initially, at least, this recital was bound to be soothing, to establish common ground, to show that Stephen was within the pale. A second advantage lay in the fact that the shift that Stephen was trying to establish in the minds of his Jewish audience was big enough that it could only be adopted within the framework of a changed worldview. In other words, not only Jesus’ identity, but even more, his death and resurrection, could not finally be accepted by thoughtful Jews unless they perceived that this is what Scripture teaches—and this point could not easily be established unless it was anchored in the very fabric of the Old Testament storyline. So the story had to be told and retold so as to highlight the most important points.

One of the points that Stephen makes as he retells the story emerges slowly at first, then faster and faster, and then explosively. That point is the repeated sin of the people. When Stephen begins the story, at first there is no mention of Israel’s evil. Then the wickedness of Joseph’s brothers is briefly mentioned (7:9). Corporate wickedness re-surfaces in Moses’ day (7:25–27, 35). Now the pace quickens. The people refused to obey Moses “and in their hearts turned back to Egypt” (7:39). The golden calf episode is brought up, and likened to idolatry in the time of Amos (7:42–43). We skip ahead to David and Solomon, and the insistence that God cannot be domesticated by a building. Finally there is the explosive condemnation not only of past generations of Israelites who rejected God and his revelation, but also of all their contemporary Spirit-resisting descendants (7:51–53).

What bearing does this point have on the lessons we should draw from the biblical history?[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

July 19 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Judges 2; Acts 6; Jeremiah 15; Mark 1

 

jeremiah 15 provides some of the most haunting insights into the inner life and thought of the prophet Jeremiah:

(1) Jeremiah has been interceding with God on behalf of the covenant people (Jer 14). God tells Jeremiah to stop, that he will not listen (14:11–12). Indeed, he now says that even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before him and intercede for the people, he would not spare them (15:1). Centuries earlier Moses and Samuel had successfully interceded for Israel (Ex. 32:11–14; Num. 14:13–24; Deut. 9:18–20, 25–29; 1 Sam. 7:5–9; 12:19–25)—though it is important to remember that they also secured, in some measure, the willingness of the people to return to the Lord with contrition and renewed obedience. This Jeremiah has not been able to achieve. Now God is telling him that he will not achieve it: the people will go into captivity. The iniquity and idolatry under Manasseh have been the last straw (15:4; see 2 Kings 21:10–15; 23:26; 24:3).

(2) In 15:10, Jeremiah frankly wishes he had never been born. The entire nation “strives and contends” with him. Everyone curses him, not because he has been corrupt in business, but because he faithfully conveys the word of the Lord. The Lord reassures him (15:11–14; the best iron came “from the north,” from the Black Sea area, so this is a way of saying that Israel’s arms would be no match for those of the Babylonians). But that is part of Jeremiah’s anguish. One part of him wants justice, wants retribution for his persecutors (15:15). That same part utterly delights in God’s words (15:16a). Yet on the other hand, his allegiance to God and his words is precisely what isolates him from the people: “I sat alone because your hand was on me and you had filled me with indignation” (15:17b). Some of his most virulent foes were his own relatives (cf. Matt. 10:36). Jeremiah is sometimes tempted to think that it is God who has failed, like an intermittent spring (a wadi, 15:18) that flows at times with life and blessing, and at other times provides nothing.

God’s response (15:19–21) is that if Jeremiah proves utterly faithful in conveying his words, he will continue as God’s spokesman and will be preserved from the evil machinations of his opponents. But one point is nonnegotiable: “Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them” (15:19b).

The deep tension between faithfulness to God and alienation from one’s own people is an unvarying constant in the ministry of faithful preachers assigned to a declining culture.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

July 19 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Judges 2; Acts 6; Jeremiah 15; Mark 1

 

from a reading of judges 1–2, it appears that after the initial Israelite victories, the pace of conquest varied considerably. In many cases tribes were responsible for bringing their own territories under control. With the passage of time, however, it seems to have become unstated policy, as the Israelites grew stronger, not to chase the Canaanites from the land, nor to exterminate them, but to subjugate them or even enslave them, to make them “drawers of water and hewers of wood,” to subject them to forced labor (1:28).

The inevitable result is that a great deal of paganism remained in the land. Human nature being what it is, these false gods inevitably became a “snare” to the covenant community (Judg. 2:3). Angry with their refusal to break down the pagan altars, the angel of the Lord declares that if the people will not do what they are told, he will no longer provide them with the decisive help that would have enabled them to complete the task (had they been willing!). The people weep over the lost opportunity, but it is too late (2:1–4). It is certainly not that they had never been warned.

This is the background to the rest of the book of Judges. Some of its main themes are then outlined for us in the rest of chapter 2. Much of the rest of the book is exemplification of the thinking laid out here.

The main thrust, shot through with tragedy, is the cyclical failure of the covenant community, and how God intervenes to rescue them again and again. Initially, the people remained faithful throughout Joshua’s lifetime and the lifetime of the elders who outlived him (2:6). But by the time that an entirely new generation had grown up—one that had seen nothing of the wonders God had performed, whether at the Exodus, during the wilderness years, or at the time of the entrance into the Promised Land—fidelity to the Lord dwindled away. Syncretism and paganism abounded; the people forsook the God of their fathers and served the Baals, i.e., the various “lords” of the Canaanites (2:10–12). The Lord responded in wrath; the people were subjected to raids, reversals, and military defeats at the hands of surrounding marauders. When the people cried to the Lord for help, he raised up a judge—a regional and often national leader—who freed the people from tyranny and led them in covenantal faithfulness. And then the cycle began again. And again. And again.

Here is a sober lesson. Even after times of spectacular revival, reformation, or covenantal renewal, the people of God are never more than a generation or two from infidelity, unbelief, massive idolatry, disobedience, and wrath. God help us.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

July 18 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Judges 1; Acts 5; Jeremiah 14; Matthew 28

 

this chapter, jeremiah 14, oscillates between poetry and prose, and between God’s speech and Jeremiah’s response. The occasion is the calamitous drought devastating the country. Some reflections:

(1) A disaster may be no more than the effluent of the Fall, and not God’s specific judgment on a people. Even then it reminds us of our mortality and our lostness, and calls for repentance (Luke 13:1–5). Nevertheless, a specific disaster may be the immediate and direct judgment of God on a people. Therefore disasters demand self-examination and a humble heart. In exactly the same way, a crippling illness may not be the direct consequence of a specific sin (John 9). But it may be (John 5).

(2) Again and again in the Old Testament, God punishes the covenant community for their sins by using the recurrent banes of the ancient world: sword (i.e., war, and sometimes exile with it), famine, and plague (14:11–12). This threefold combination is brought together seven times in the prophecy of Jeremiah. Ezekiel 14 adds a fourth: wild beasts. These are either “natural” phenomena (famine and plague) or are brought about by wicked human conduct (war, and sometimes famine and plague).

(3) Because our own culture tries so hard to detach from God what happens in the “natural” world, reserving for him only private or distantly “spiritual” things, we rush to give naturalistic explanations for our wars and famines and plagues instead of at least trying to learn the lessons providence may be teaching us. I am not suggesting that it is easy to read providence. We have seen that Scripture itself warns us against trying to infer too much too quickly (Luke 13:1–5). Nevertheless, not to draw any moral and spiritual lessons from disasters may be nothing more than an index of how far we have sold ourselves to the forces of secularization. We resolutely refuse to “hear” what God says when he speaks to us in the language of judgment—exactly the response of ancient Israel. Indeed, according to this chapter there was a hearty collection of religious leaders who denied any connection between disaster and divine judgment (14:14). It is ever so. So not only will prophets be held accountable for what they say and teach, but the people are responsible for what they choose to listen to. Shall we not learn any moral and spiritual lessons in this bloody twentieth century from two world wars, the arms race, economic collapses, the Nazis, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Biafra, the Balkans, Rwanda, Vietnam, wretched totalitarian regimes of left and right, famines, slavery, the Sudan, racism, AIDS, abortion? Kipling was right: “Lord God of hosts, be with us yet / Lest we forget; lest we forget.”[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

July 18 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Judges 1; Acts 5; Jeremiah 14; Matthew 28

 

the account of ananias and sapphira, whose names are recorded in the earliest Christian records because of their deceit (Acts 5:1–11), is disturbing on several grounds. Certainly the early church thought so (5:5, 11). Four observations focus the issues:

First, revival does not guarantee the absence of sin in a community. When many people are converted and genuinely transformed, when many are renewed and truly learn to hate sin, others find it more attractive to be thought holy than to be holy. Revival offers many temptations to hypocrisy that would be less potent when the temper of the age is secularistic or pagan.

Second, the issue is not so much the disposition of the money that Ananias and Sapphira obtained when they sold a piece of property as the lie they told. Apparently there were some members who were selling properties and donating all of the proceeds to the church to help in its varied ministries, not least the relief of the needs of brothers and sisters in Christ. Indeed, the man called Barnabas was exemplary in this respect (4:36–37), and serves as a foil to Ananias and Sapphira. But these two sold their property, kept some of the proceeds for themselves, and pretended that they were giving everything. It was this claim to sanctity and self-denial, this pretense of generosity and piety, that was so offensive. Left unchecked, it might well multiply. It would certainly place into positions of honor people whose conduct did not deserve it. But worse, it was a blatant lie against the Holy Spirit—as if the Spirit of God could not know the truth, or would not care. In this sense it was a supremely presumptuous act, betraying a stance so removed from the God-centeredness of genuine faith that it was idolatrous.

Third, another element of the issue was conspiracy. It was not enough that Ananias pulled this wicked stunt himself. He acted “with his wife’s full knowledge” (5:2); indeed, her lying was not only passive but active (5:8), betraying a shared commitment to deceive believers and defy God.

Fourth, in times of genuine revival, judgment may be more immediate than in times of decay. When God walks away from the church and lets the multiplying sin take its course, that is the worst judgment of all; it will inevitably end in irretrievable disaster. But when God responds to sin with prompt severity, lessons are learned, and the church is spared a worse drift. In this case, great fear fell not only on the church but also on all who heard of these events (5:5, 11).

It is written: “He whose walk is upright fears the Lord, but he whose ways are devious despises him” (Prov. 14:2).[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

July 17 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Joshua 24; Acts 4; Jeremiah 13; Matthew 27

 

matthew tells us that at the moment Jesus died, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matt. 27:51). The immediate cause was apparently the earthquake that accompanied Jesus’ death. Yet it is impossible for the thoughtful Christian not to nestle this brief and cryptic observation into the bigger picture—the account of what the curtain had already come to mean in the history of Israel and how it plays out in the later books of the New Testament, such as Hebrews and Revelation, where the first generation of Christian writers explain to their readers just what the cross achieved. Along this axis, the tearing of the curtain was a symbol-laden act of great significance. Four reflections:

(1) Neither the curtain nor the tearing of the curtain make any sense unless we see that, this side of the Fall, we have no right to come into the presence of a holy God. After their calamitous rebellion, Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden (Gen. 3). When the rescued Israelites construct their golden calf in the desert, God not only sends judgment, but threatens not to manifest himself among them, lest they be destroyed (Ex. 32–33). In narrative and oracle alike, the biblical writers drive home this truth: sin separates us from our transcendentally holy Maker. We do not have right of access to the most holy.

(2) That reality was symbolized in the construction of the tabernacle and later the temple. One third of the structure, called the Most Holy Place, had the dimensions of a cube. It was separated from the rest of the building by a heavy curtain. Here God manifested himself in glory. Only the high priest could enter—and only once a year, bearing the blood of the prescribed sacrifices, offered up for his own sins and for the sins of the people. All others were excluded under pain of death.

(3) The tearing of the curtain at the moment of Jesus’ death therefore symbolizes that Jesus’ death has gained access for sinners into the very presence of God. He is our great high priest; he is our atoning sacrifice. Nor does he have to slip into the Most Holy Place every year, once a year. He dies once for all and satisfies the holy demand of God, so that in principle the curtain can come down.

(4) Small wonder, then, that the “new Jerusalem,” one of the images for the final abode of God’s people (Rev. 21–22), is shaped like a perfect cube. Already Christians have access to the throne of God by the merit of Jesus Christ; in the consummation, however, we will stand unafraid and overwhelmed by joy and adoration in the unshielded splendor of his holiness.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

July 17 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Joshua 24; Acts 4; Jeremiah 13; Matthew 27

 

when peter and john were released from their first whiff of persecution, they “went back to their own people” (Acts 4:23). The church gathered for prayer, using the words of Psalm 2 (Acts 4:25–26). They understood that Old Testament text to be God’s speech (“You spoke”) by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of David (4:25).

At one level, Psalm 2 is an enthronement psalm. Once again, however, the David-typology is strong. The kings of the earth and the rulers gathered against the Lord and against his Anointed One (the Messiah)—and climactically so when “Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed” (4:27). These earliest of our brothers and sisters in Christ ask for three things (4:29–30): (a) that the Lord would consider the threats of their opponents; (b) that they themselves might be enabled to speak God’s word with boldness; and (c) that God would perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of Jesus (which may mean, in their expectation, “through the apostles”; cf. 2:4; 3:6ff.; 5:12).

But before making their requests, these prayer warriors, after mentioning the wicked conspiracy of Herod, Pilate, and the rest, calmly address God in a confession of staggering importance: “They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen” (4:28). Observe:

First, God’s sovereignty over the death of Christ does not mitigate the guilt of the human conspirators. On the other hand, the malice of their conspiracy has not caught God flat-footed, as if he had not foreseen the cross, much less planned it. The text plainly insists that God’s sovereignty is not mitigated by human actions, and human guilt is not exculpated by appeal to divine sovereignty. This duality is sometimes called compatibilism: God’s utter sovereignty and human moral responsibility are compatible. Complex issues are involved, but there can be no serious doubt that this stance is either taught or presupposed by the biblical writers (see meditation for February 17).

Second, in this case it is doubly necessary to see how the two points hang together. If Jesus died solely as a result of human conspiracy, and not by the design and purpose of God, it is difficult to see how his death can be the long-planned divine response to our desperate need. If God’s sovereignty over Jesus’ death means that the human perpetrators are thereby exonerated, should this not also be true wherever God is sovereign? And then where is the sin that needs to be paid for by Jesus’ death? The integrity of the Gospel hangs on that element of Christian theism called compatibilism.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

July 16 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Joshua 23; Acts 3; Jeremiah 12; Matthew 26

 

in the eighth century before christ, Hosea experienced the terrible betrayal of a woman joined to him by the covenant of marriage who was tragically committed to prostitution. He learned thereby something of how God perceives the spiritual prostitution of the people to whom he was covenantally linked. In a somewhat similar vein, Jeremiah has suffered rejection by his friends and relatives (11:18–23—yesterday’s meditation). His anguish and anger over the situation sets the stage for God to explain his own response to the people who have rejected him (Jer. 12).

The question Jeremiah raises is prompted by his experiences in the immediately preceding verses. He has been doing his bit to foster reformation, yet his life is threatened by the relatives and people of his own village. Although he still affirms the righteousness of God, Jeremiah protests, “Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?” (12:1). Plunged into despair and flooded with a sense of the sheer inequity of it all, Jeremiah in the opening verses of this chapter asks God why he does not simply root out the wicked and do away with them.

God does not directly respond to Jeremiah’s question (12:5–6). Instead, he tells the prophet, in effect, that he hasn’t seen anything yet. If Jeremiah stumbles so painfully in his own village, how will he fare in the far more complicated and perverse atmosphere of Jerusalem? “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?” (12:5). If you stumble in the relatively safe arena of Anathoth, “how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?” (In the preexilic period, the Jordan’s flood-plain was covered with luxuriant vegetation that protected many wild animals, including the Asiatic lion.) Many Christian leaders have had to learn that initial sufferings merely prepare the way for much more of the same.

At least Jeremiah is a little better able to understand what God means when he says, “I will forsake my house, abandon my inheritance; I will give the one I love into the hands of her enemies. My inheritance has become to me like a lion in the forest. She roars at me; therefore I hate her” (12:7–8). So the following verses depict the judgment that must inevitably ensue.

Even here, however, God’s graciousness shines through. After God has “uprooted” them, he will bring them back to their own inheritance (12:14–15). If exile is inevitable because of their sin, restoration will follow because of God’s compassion. Even pagan nations will join in the blessing of the Lord, wherever they repudiate the Baals and swear by the living God (12:16).[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

July 16 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Joshua 23; Acts 3; Jeremiah 12; Matthew 26

 

acts 3 includes a brief report of a sermon preached impromptu. (Though like many impromptu sermons, doubtless it was made up of pieces Peter had used before!) There are many points of immense interest.

(1) Peter repeatedly ties the coming of Jesus the Messiah with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (3:13), with Moses and the promise that God would eventually raise up a prophet like him (3:22; cf. Deut. 18:15–18; see also meditation for June 13), with the prophetic witness of the Old Testament (3:24), and even with God’s promise to Abraham that through his offspring all the peoples of the earth would be blessed (3:25; see meditations for January 14–15). At this point Peter did not have as broad an understanding of these points as he would later have, if we may judge by chapters 10–11. But that his understanding had got so far reflects his trainee period with the Lord Jesus.

(2) Peter does not for a moment let the crowd of onlookers off the hook (3:13–15). Many of his hearers were complicit in the demand to crucify Jesus; but, like an Old Testament prophet, Peter saw the people as a whole bound up in the decision of their leaders. The people may have “acted in ignorance” (3:17)—i.e., they did not say, in effect, “Here is the Messiah. Let us kill him.”—but kill him they did, and Peter reminds them of their guilt, not only as an unalterable fact of history, but also because it is guilt that Jesus came to deal with (3:19–20). Moreover, although the people are guilty, Peter understands that it was precisely through the evil execution of Jesus that “God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer” (3:18). That is the supreme irony of all history.

(3) There is a string of characteristics that unite this sermon with the sermon in Acts 2 and some others in the book of Acts. These features include: the God of our fathers has sent his servant Jesus; you killed him—disowning the Holy and Righteous One, the author of life—but God raised him from the dead; we are witnesses of these things; by the death and resurrection of Jesus God fulfilled the promises he made through the prophets; repent therefore, and turn to God. There are variations on these themes, of course, but these return again and again.

(4) Although “many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles” (2:43), the apostles themselves are in no doubt that they had neither the power nor the godliness to make a crippled beggar walk (3:12). Their self-effacement is a perpetual lesson. “It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing” (3:16).[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

July 15 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Joshua 22; Acts 2; Jeremiah 11; Matthew 25

 

the opening line of jeremiah 11 shows that what follows is a new prophecy, a new oracle from God, the fourth reported in this book. It is difficult to be certain exactly when it was preached. Many have suggested, plausibly enough, that it was delivered not too long after Hilkiah rediscovered the scroll of the Law, about 621 b.c. This generated something of a religious reformation under King Josiah (2 Kings 22–23). According to 2 Chronicles 34, the discovery of the scroll was preceded by a centralization of worship at Jerusalem. Inevitably this meant a decline of the rites shaped by Canaanite religion at the local shrines—and, presumably, an increase in the resentment of local religious leaders. Jeremiah certainly supported Josiah in this reformation. If this is the setting—and one cannot be certain, for there are other possibilities—two elements in the chapter before us take on new significance.

First, the Lord tells Jeremiah to threaten the people with judgment specifically grounded in the blessings and cursings of the Mosaic covenant (11:6–8). What is threatened is more specific than the judgments reserved for other nations, judgments grounded in God’s response to unrighteousness and idolatry. Rather, what is threatened is no more and no less than what the covenant said would happen if the people fell away into disobedience (Deut. 28). The religion of the covenant people of God had apparently become so debased, so merely traditional, and so removed from any current study of the Scriptures, that such elements had largely passed from public memory, until the scroll of the Law was rediscovered. These specific covenantal threats of judgment were what caused Josiah to tear his clothes and utter, “Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us” (2 Kings 22:13). Assuming this setting for Jeremiah 11, the prophet is carefully drawing out the covenantal implications of the failure to obey.

Second, this also explains why the men of Anathoth, Jeremiah’s own village, seek to do away with him (Jer. 11:18–23). Priests had lived there since the time of the settlement under Joshua (Josh. 21:18). Because this line had participated in the revolt against David, Solomon excluded them from temple service (1 Kings 2:26–27). Doubtless they were heavily invested in local shrines and resented the centralized worship in the Jerusalem temple, where they were not allowed to serve. So in addition to the animus against a local (a prophet is without honor in his home town, Luke 4:24), these men may have especially hated Jeremiah’s support for Josiah’s reformation. Where there is no passion for the Word of God, other passions take over.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

July 15 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Joshua 22; Acts 2; Jeremiah 11; Matthew 25

 

acts 2 is sometimes called the birthday of the church. This can be misleading. There is a sense in which the old covenant community can rightly be designated church (7:38—“assembly” in NIV). Nevertheless there is a new departure that begins on this day, a departure bound up with the universal gift of the Holy Spirit, in fulfillment of Scripture (2:17–18) and in consequence of Jesus’ exaltation “to the right hand of God” (2:33). The critical event that has brought this incalculable blessing about is the death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus Christ; this event was itself foreseen by earlier Scripture.

One of the things that is striking about Peter’s address, quite apart from its comprehensiveness, courage, directness, and passionate fire, is the way the apostle, even at this early stage of his postresurrection public ministry, handles what we call the Old Testament Scriptures. His use of Scripture in this Pentecost sermon is too rich and variegated to unpack in detail. But observe:

(1) Once again there is a David-typology (2:25–28, citing Ps. 16:8–11). But here there is also a small sample of apostolic reasoning in this regard. Although it is possible to read 2:27 (“you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay”) as David’s conviction that God will not, at that point, let him die, the language is so extravagant, and David’s typological role so common, that Peter insists the words point to something more: a greater than David will quite literally not be abandoned in the grave, and will not be permitted to experience decay. David, after all, was a prophet. Whether in this case, like Caiaphas (John 11:50–52), David spoke better than he knew, at least he knew that God had promised “on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne” (2:30).

(2) The prophecy of Joel (Acts 2:17–21; see Joel 2:28–32) is more straightforward, in that it is a case of verbal prediction and does not resort to typology. The obvious meaning is that Peter detects in the events of Pentecost the fulfillment of these words: the “last days” (2:17) have arrived. (Whether the sun turning to darkness and the moon turning to blood were both events bound up with the dark hours when Jesus was on the cross, or an instance of Hebrew nature symbolism, need not detain us here.) This Old Testament passage is one of a handful of texts that predict the coming of the Spirit, or the writing of God’s law on our hearts, but in any case covenant-wide personal transformation in the last days (e.g., Jer. 31:31ff.; Ezek. 36:25–27).[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

July 14 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Joshua 20–21; Acts 1; Jeremiah 10; Matthew 24

 

two reflections on Jeremiah 10:

First, the catastrophic punishment about to befall Judah is traced to her incompetent leaders: “The shepherds are senseless and do not inquire of the Lord; so they do not prosper and all their flock is scattered” (10:21). “Shepherds” in this context includes more than “pastors” (KJV): it includes all who direct the affairs of the nation—king, priests, prophets, and other leaders.

The arena in which these leaders are incompetent is not general administration, charismatic sheen, financial acuity, or management potential. They are “senseless,” and their folly is manifest in the fact that they “do not inquire of the Lord.” This cannot mean that they do not go through the mere forms of seeking out the Lord’s counsel, consulting the prophets and treating the prescribed rituals like a talisman that brings good luck. It means, rather, that they do not really want to do what God wants. They do not approach him with the contrition and profound reverence for his Word of which Isaiah speaks (Isa. 66). They do not treat him as if he is radically “other” and fundamentally different from the myriad false gods that surround them. Neither nations nor churches rise higher than their leaders. If our leaders are passionate about knowing and obeying the will of the Lord, our prospects are excellent; if they are dissolute and intoxicated by selfism, our prospects are dim or even desperate.

Second, in the closing verses (10:23–25) Jeremiah identifies with his people in a startling way. “I know, O Lord, that a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps. Correct me, Lord, but only with justice—not in your anger, lest you reduce me to nothing” (10:23–24). These lines might initially be read as referring to Jeremiah the prophet, Jeremiah the individual, and nothing more. Certainly individual believers ought so to be aware of their own sins that they entreat God to spare them from the destruction they deserve. But closer inspection shows that the sins Jeremiah is confessing are the sins of the nation, in particular the smug self-determinism that refuses to acknowledge the sheer Godhood of God, the glorious truth that God alone is God and is in control. The next verse (10:25) discloses that what Jeremiah wants God to spare is “Jacob,” the covenant people of God. Doubtless punishment is decreed against them, but Jeremiah pleads with God that he will not wipe out the people in his wrath, but reserve the worst measures for “the peoples who do not call on your name.” Thus Jeremiah cries to God for himself, but also for his people with whom he identifies—not unlike Paul in Galatians 2:17–21 and perhaps Romans 7:7ff.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

July 14 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Joshua 20–21; Acts 1; Jeremiah 10; Matthew 24

 

between jesus’ ascension and Pentecost, the nascent church, about one hundred and twenty strong, met together and prayed. At one such meeting, Peter stood up and initiated the action that appointed Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:15–26).

(1) Peter’s use of Scripture (1:16, 20) is apparently what guides him to his conclusion that “it is necessary” (1:21) to choose one of the other men who had been with Jesus from the beginning of his public ministry as a replacement for the traitor Judas. At the surface level of Acts, the reasoning is straightforward. Psalm 69:25 says, “May [his] place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in [it]”; Peter applies this to Judas. Psalm 109:8 insists, “May another take his place of leadership”; this Peter takes as a divine warrant for securing a replacement.

In the context of Psalms 69 and 109, David is seeking vindication against enemies—once close friends—who had betrayed him. Peter’s use of these verses belongs to one of two primary patterns. Either: (a) Peter is indulging in indefensible proof-texting. The verses never did apply to Judas, and can be made to do so only by exegetical sleight-of-hand. Or: (b) Peter is already presupposing a fairly sophisticated David-typology. If this sense of betrayal and plea for vindicating justice play such an important role in the experience of great King David, how much more in great David’s greater Son? Why should we flinch at such reasoning? During the previous forty days Jesus had often spoken with his disciples (1:3), explaining in some detail “what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Certainly the David-typology crops up in the Gospels on the lips of Jesus. Why should we not accept that he taught it to his disciples?

(2) On the criteria raised here—the replacement apostle had to be not only a witness of the resurrected Jesus, but someone who had been with the disciples “the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us” (1:21–22)—Paul could not have met the conditions. Paul’s apostleship was irregular, as he himself acknowledges (1 Cor. 15:8–9). We should not entertain nonsense about Peter and the church making a mistake here because they did not wait for the appointment of Paul.

(3) The choosing of one of two by lot (1:23–26) is not a prescription for local church governance procedures. There is no hint of a similar procedure from then on in the church’s life, as reported in the New Testament. This sounds more like the climax of an Old Testament procedure, with God himself selecting and authorizing the twelve men of the apostolic band.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

July 13 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Joshua 18–19; Psalms 149–150; Jeremiah 9; Matthew 23

 

once again jeremiah cycles around some of the themes he has already introduced (Jer. 9). For instance, the closing two verses pick up on true and false circumcision (cf. 4:4). But here, too, a new facet of the sin of the people is explored (9:23–24). About these verses I must say four things:

First, the heart of much sin is the smug self-sufficiency that boasts in its own wisdom or strength or wealth (9:23). That is always a mark of lostness. It focuses on self. Worse, it fails to recognize that all that we have (and boast about) is derived: we do not choose our own genes, or parents, or heritage; all we have achieved has been in function of others, of health, of gifts, of support, of situation—a thousand elements over which we have little control and which, this side of the Fall, we do not have the right to claim. Worst of all, smug and self-sufficient people leave no place for priorities outside themselves; they leave no place for God, for they are their own gods.

Second, there is nothing in the universe more important to human beings than to know the Lord (9:24a). He is God, not we; he is the Creator, not we; he exercises providential rule, not we. He is the Self-Existent, and we are derived and dependent. He inhabits eternity; we are restricted to our very small segment of time. He is utterly holy and glorious; we are massively contaminated by dirt, and stand under his judgment. But we may know him! That is the only thing truly worth “boasting” about. Will you doubt this point two hundred or two billion years from now?

Third, the One we know is Yahweh, “who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on the earth” (9:24b). “Kindness” is God’s covenantal love, his covenantal mercy, bound up with his own utter reliability—a virtue that stands in stunning contrast to the fickleness of the people in rebellion against him.

Fourth, Paul understands the universal applicability of these verses when he alludes to them and then cites part of them in 1 Corinthians 1:26–31. He writes, “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth”—the kinds of things the Corinthians were boasting about. “Wise/wisdom” is found in both contexts; Paul interprets “strong” not in terms of physical strength but in terms of political and social influence; he interprets the “rich” in terms of the “noble,” for in the preindustrial world the two usually went hand in hand. But if Christ is our true wisdom—“that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30), then, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord” (1:31).[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

July 13 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Joshua 18–19; Psalms 149–150; Jeremiah 9; Matthew 23

 

this (josh. 18–19) is a good time to reflect on the many chapters of Joshua that have been devoted to the dividing up of the land.

(1) Focusing on the division of the land, these chapters implicitly focus on the land itself. After all, the land was an irreducible component of the promise to Abraham, of the Sinai covenant, of the release of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. It is now distributed by God’s providential supervision of the “lot.”

(2) The inevitable conclusion is that God is faithful to his promises. That point is explicitly drawn for us a bare two chapters on: “So the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord handed all their enemies over to them. Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled” (21:43–45).

(3) These chapters also explain how entrance into the Promised Land did not proceed in a wave of unbroken triumph. Earlier God had warned that he would not give the Israelites the whole thing at once. Now we are repeatedly told that this tribe or that could not dislodge certain Canaanites, and they continue there “to this day.” For instance, “Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the people of Judah” (15:63; cf. Judg. 1:21). In fact, Jerusalem was taken (Judg. 1:8), but not all the Jebusites were dislodged. Details of this sort help to explain how the tussle between fidelity and syncretism could occupy so much of Israel’s history.

(4) Some of the elements in these chapters bring earlier strands of the narrative to closure. For instance, Caleb surfaces again. He was Joshua’s colleague among the initial group of twelve spies; they were the only two who at Kadesh Barnea, at the first approach to the Promised Land, urged the people to enter it boldly and trust God. In consequence they are the only two of their generation who are still alive to witness the Promised Land for themselves. And now in Joshua 15, Caleb is still looking for new worlds to conquer and receives his inheritance. Similarly, chapters 20–21 detail the designation of the cities of refuge and of the towns set aside for the Levites—steps mandated by the Mosaic Code.

(5) There is trouble ahead. The ambiguities of the situation, and the memories of the final warnings of Moses, signal the reader that these relative victories, good though they are, cannot possibly be God’s final or ultimate provision.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.